By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
From riding with the Patriot Guard to serving as the 21st Cavalry Brigade’s air mission commander for a day, Shady 28 has accomplished a lot — especially for a kid.
Shady 28 is the call sign for Brandon Barta, a 12-year-old from Little Elm who was treated as a VIP at Hood Airfield on Friday. Barta has brain cancer and got his first exposure to the military in mid-August when he was air mission commander at Forever Free, a military celebration in McKinney. He was serving as a spokesman for America’s Huey 091 Education Foundation, a program with a mission to provide civics and history lessons to school-age children.
Barta was then invited to tour Hood Airfield and test the same helicopter flight simulators that Army pilots use to train. During his visit, Barta received everything from a flight suit to combat boots to prints of the helicopters he got to see that day. He met with Col. Scott Thompson, the brigade’s commander, and a squadron of Royal Netherlands Air Force pilots, who made him an honorary member.
Barta was diagnosed with anaplastic oligoastrocytoma in December 2006 and his aunt, Robin Smith, asked a man at the bank she worked at if her nephew could have a ride on his motorcycle.
He was eventually made an honorary member of the Patriot Guard and even received a vest. The patches he collected at Fort Hood last week will be sewn on that vest. His association with the Patriot Guard led to his work with the foundation.
Barta has always been a fan of the military, said Theresa Barta, his mother. His uncle, Rodney, is in the Army and was stationed at Fort Hood 20 years ago. He served in Desert Storm and gave Brandon his dogtags after he returned. Brandon wore them during his Fort Hood tour.
Through his adventures since being diagnosed with cancer, which include meeting Dallas Cowboys stars Tony Romo and Tyson Thompson, Brandon has been amazed at the lengths people have gone to for him, Theresa said.
Brandon has undergone two courses of radiation and two types of chemotherapy. He continues to get treatments every week. Theresa said Brandon is taking his situation well and is “mostly annoyed by it.” It takes away from the time he gets to spend being a kid, she said.
Brandon was excited about the simulators, she said before their tour. He also brought along his cousins, 14-year-old Ryan and 9-year-old Daniel, who were just as excited to “fly” the simulators. The boys were skipping school that day, which Brandon said was “pretty cool.”
The boys; their parents; veteran Chad Snowden, who was severly injured in Iraq and another foundation spokesman; and representatives from the foundation, American Airlines and Quad-A Phantom Corps Chapter visited two types of simulators at Hood Airfield. The simulators are multi-million dollar, virtual-reality machines that prepare pilots to fly Apache Longbow and Black Hawk helicopters. Users sit in a cockpit surrounded by large screens that display landscapes like Baghdad, Iraq, and Fort Hood. There, the user can take off, land, fly and fire weapons systems.
Brandon had a blast, his mother said, and was “just cracking up the whole time.” She might have a pilot on her hands, she joked. If not him, then maybe Ryan, because he likes video games, she said. Brandon was a little tired during his Fort Hood visit on Friday because Thursday was his chemotherapy day, but still “he’s loving it,” Theresa said.
Brandon was also treated as a VIP at Friday’s football game between Killeen and Ellison high schools.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.